Domestic violence: One woman’s story of escaping an abusive partner
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series on services for victims of abuse and violence in Pierce County. Subsequent stories include:
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- Inside the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center
- Other resources available to help people escape abusive relationships
- How the Gig Harbor Police Department handles these cases, and resources for navigating the legal system
Warning: This story includes some descriptions of violence and abuse.
When Abigail first met the man who would become her abuser, he was charming and sweet. He swept her off her feet. Abigail (an alias) believed she had found the perfect mate.
They dated for nearly two years before they married.
He had a good job, had a great reputation in the community, and seemed like a great guy. She had no idea that an abuser was going to emerge. He convinced her that she didn’t need to work, because his job paid enough for her to stay home.
“I know now that he was getting me isolated,” she said.
Put-downs and possessiveness
Once they were married, the little put downs began, things that made her feel bad about herself. He lied about little things. He used gaslighting, a psychological manipulation that keeps victims doubting themselves.
As time went on, he began to become more possessive. He demanded to know where she was going and what she was doing every moment of the day. She said that when her husband was home, he kept her off kilter and a nervous wreck.
“I thought I was just adjusting to married life,” Abigail said. “But the other signs were him lying, and he was so smooth, and good at having an excuse. He was very manipulative, and made me confused a lot.”
After their child was born, the physical violence started. The first time was a shove. He would start fights. When he would start yelling, she said she would try to walk away, but it would only escalate his need for control over her.
“He would block the bedroom door, stalk me, trap me, follow me out to the car so I couldn’t leave, and I was too afraid to call the police. When I met him I was strong, confident, independent, and had a lot of friends, but he didn’t want me to see my family, or do things with my friends. He started the triangulation thing where he was secretly going behind my back and telling my family that I was crazy, and needed medication, but my family didn’t believe him. They knew it didn’t sound like me.”
Respected in the community, with a good job and high income, Abigail said her husband threatened that if she ever told anyone, they wouldn’t believe her. He had friends in high places. One was a former judge.
After years of abuse, she sought out a counselor. But the counselor wanted to have a joint session with her husband, which can be dangerous in an abusive relationship.
“I learned that you never do joint counseling when there is abuse, because it will cause them to escalate, and they’ll hurt you worse when you get home.”
A friend was going through a similar abuse cycle. That friend told Abigail about the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.
That center is named for Crystal Judson. Judson’s husband, then-Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, murdered her in a Gig Harbor parking to in 2003. The center has advocates available to help clients navigate the emotional process, as well as the legal one.
“Domestic violence is all about power and control,” said Nadia Van Atter, assistant director of the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center in Tacoma. “Often we think about the clear things that we can see, like physical harm, but in reality there are so many different tactics that family, friends and the community can’t see. It’s like an iceberg. There’s the physical violence at the tip of the iceberg, and all of the other behaviors are under the water line.”
Pierce County has higher rate of abuse
According to the Washington State Department of Health, one in eight adults in the state report injuries by an intimate partner. Pierce County has one of the highest rates of reported domestic violence offenses in the state, according to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. Pierce County’s rate of 0.9 percent is seventh among 39 Washington counties. The state rate overall is about 0.6, or 600 reported incidents per 100,000 residents.
And those are just the cases that get reported. It took Abigail years to report her abuse.
Her fear was so great that she thought that seeking help could make her life worse. She waited a long time to reach out.
“I was afraid to see an advocate, afraid they would take my child away from me, but now I know that isn’t how that works.”
Abigail called the center from a pay phone because she was so afraid of being identified. An advocate allayed her fears, and helped her with a safety plan. Abigail packed a bag that she kept somewhere safe, and she began to report the abuse to the police.
She was afraid to call them while the abuse was happening, so she waited and reported it afterward. The reports gave her the paper trail that she needed when she was finally ready to leave. It took years for her to feel ready.
“It takes someone to come alongside you and guide you through the process,” she said. “I met my advocate often, and started to learn what domestic violence is, and all of the forms of abuse.”
Just admitting that they are a victim can take years for some. That was Abigail’s experience.
Not all abuse is physical
While the most obvious form of abuse is physical abuse, other forms include psychological manipulation, verbal abuse, intimidation and financial abuse. According to the National Institute of Health, psychological or emotional abuse can include dominance, ridicule, or the use of intimate knowledge to degrade the victim. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that more than 10 million people experience abuse each year at the hands of an intimate partner.
Once she was connected with the center, she learned about sexual assault, sexual violence and rape.
“If they hurt you, and then demand sex after, that is rape,” she said. “And the highest form of sexual abuse is cheating.”
She formed a circle of people ready to help her. It took many years of going to the center to talk to the advocate before she was ready to leave her abuser.
“I left with what I was wearing, and because my child was no longer a minor, I was at the bottom of the wait list for housing. But I had loved ones who took me in, and he didn’t know where I was.”
A paper trail
Because she had gone to the police so many times to file reports, she had the proof that she needed in court to get a domestic violence protection order. An advocate from the center accompanied her through the process.
“I advise any victim, whether they are a woman or a man, to start the paper trail, and don’t be afraid to let the police know.”
She also received help from Abuse Recovery Ministry Service, and she started reading books on the subject of abuse. She joined a 12-step program, and started her healing journey.
“I’m out of my situation, and I’m happy,” she said. “I still continue to do counseling. I feel like if I had gotten counseling sooner than later, it would have helped me. It took my friend to finally come to me and say there’s a name for what we are going through.”
When to walk away
There is a lot of information on the Internet that can explain the layers of abuse, the personalities of abusers, narcissistic personality disorder, and the signs to watch for. Abigail said her advice is to walk away at the first sign of a lie.
“Lies, that’s a red flag,” she said. “If you get that icky feeling, like, ‘I think he or she just lied to me,’ or if you feel smothered, or someone is trying to control you, those are all signs of an unhealthy relationship.”
If you are experiencing any form of abuse from an intimate partner, and are a resident of Pierce County, call the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center at 253-798-4166, or visit familyjusticecenter.us